Understanding Real Estate and Property Life Interest

Life interest is the smallest freehold estate known to law. This ownership gives the owner the right to enjoy the land only for a lifetime, usually his own. At the end of life, the estate ceases to exist, so there is nothing that can be inherited by the deceased owner’s heirs. The two main types of life interest are:

(1) An interest in the life of the lessee himself; and

(2) An interest in the life of someone other than the tenant. For example, to A for the life of B, or where X, who holds an interest in his own life, assigns his interest to Y: if this is done, since X cannot grant an interest greater than he has and has an interest only in his own life, Y can only take an interest in the life of X.

The common law tenant for life

Because a life tenant had such a limited interest in Jamaican land, the common law did not permit him to treat the land entirely as his own: he did not have the absolute powers of enjoyment permitted to the owner of a freehold or fee simple estate, because he was deemed to use the land only in such a way as to cause him no permanent harm that might affect those entitled to it upon his death.

The rights and obligations of a life tenant can be summarized as follows: You can take the annual earnings but you must not take or destroy anything that is a permanent part of your estate. He is entitled to fruits of all kinds, but he must leave the source of the fruits intact. He has certain positive rights and a negative duty that the doctrine of waste prescribes.


The benefits derived from the land, whether they occur continuously, periodically or occasionally, belong to the lessee for life. However, a particular danger you face is that after you have seeded your holding it may end unexpectedly before they are ripe. In this case, he has the right to re-enter the land at harvest time and reap what he has sown. This is known as the right to emblems. This happens constantly with foreclosure houses in Jamaica.


The life tenant position on the negative side is governed by the common law waste doctrine.

Waste at common law consists of any act or omission that alters the nature of the land and is generally considered under these two headings:

1) Voluntary waste

2) Permissive waste

voluntary residues

It is any positive act of the lessee that alters the nature of the land. For example:

or opening a mine

or cut wood

tear down or alter buildings

Technically, any alteration to the nature of the land is wasteful, even if the alteration is an improvement, that is, it can increase the value. This voluntary waste that improves the land is known as Improvement Waste and no action will be taken for its commission.

Permissive residues

This consists of failing to do what is required to be done to keep the land in good condition, such as not repairing a house.

Equity Position on Waste

The rule has long been that any tenant who commits wanton or extravagant acts of destruction will be restrained by injunction and ordered to rehabilitate the premises. It is said that senseless acts of destruction constitute equitable waste. Understanding this concept will prepare investors for Kingston Jamaica homes for rent or sale.

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